Derek Acorah dead: TV psychic and Celebrity Big Brother contestant dies aged 69 after ‘very brief illness’ | London Evening Standard

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TV mystic Derek Acorah has died aged 69, his wife has said.

The self-styled spiritual medium, whose real name is Derek Johnson, appeared on Celebrity Big Brother  in 2017 and launched the paranormal reality TV series Most Haunted in 2001.

His wife Gwen Acorah shared the news in a statement on his official Facebook page, adding that the psychic had been in intensive care after falling into a coma.

“Farewell my love! I will miss you forever! I’m devastated to announce that my beloved husband Derek has passed away after a very brief illness,” she wrote.

Derek Acorah took part in Celebrity Big Brother three years ago (PA Archive/PA Images)

“Thank you so much to everybody who has supported me – I can never thank you enough.”

She suggested that her husband had been targeted by trolls before his death in the second part of her statement.

Born in Bootle, Merseyside, in 1950, Acorah featured in regular segments on 1996 TV show The Psychic Zone before becoming a contributor on spin-off show Psychic Livetime.

Acorah got his big break on TV thanks to Psychic Livetime on satellite channel Granada Breeze, and then followed it up with his own series Predictions With Derek Acorah.

He then went to Living to feature in Most Haunted, where he was the guest medium for several series until he departed after six series in 2005 following claims of fakery.

The show’s resident parapsychologist Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe told The Mirror in late 2005 that he had set up Acorah by having other crew members feed him false information about spirits in various locations.

Dr O’Keeffe invented a long-dead South African jailer called Kreed Kafer, an anagram of Derek Faker, and said he was stunned when the TV medium “got possessed by my fictional character” at Bodmin Jail.

In 2006, Acorah’s former co-host Yvette Fielding told the Metro: “We tell people everything is real, then it turns out he was a fake, so he had to go.”

After Most Haunted, the presenter had another series called Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns, which ran for three series in 2005 and 2006.

In 2009 Acorah attempted to contact the late King of Pop in a broadcast called Derek Acorah’s Michael Jackson: The Live Seance, but the show was widely panned by viewers and critics.

Acorah was forced to apologise to the McCann family after he was quoted as saying that that their lost daughter Madeleine was dead.

He reportedly told The Sun that she had joined the “spirit world”, greatly upsetting the McCanns, although Acorah later claimed he had been misquoted by the paper.

Acorah was banned from driving for more than two years in 2014 after admitting to driving without due care and attention and for failing to provide a breath test following a crash the previous year.

His wife said he died from a short illness (PA)

He appeared in series 20 of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5, where he came fourth.

Acorah was born in Bootle, Merseyside, in 1950.

He originally had aspirations to be a footballer, and was on the books of Liverpool FC but did not play a game.

He went on to play football in Australia but his career in the sport ended while he was in his late twenties due to a leg injury.

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Twitter bans animated PNG files after online attackers targeted users with epilepsy

Twitter is banning animated PNG image files (APNGs) from its platform, after an attack on the Epilepsy Foundation’s Twitter account sent out similar animated images that could potentially cause seizures in photosensitive people.

Twitter discovered a bug that allowed users to bypass its autoplay settings, and allow several animated images in a single tweet using the APNG file format.

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“We want everyone to have a safe experience on Twitter,” the company says in a tweet from the Twitter Accessibility handle. “APNGs were fun, but they don’t respect autoplay settings, so we’re removing the ability to add them to Tweets. This is for the safety of people with sensitivity to motion and flashing imagery, including those with epilepsy.”

Tweets with existing APNG images won’t be deleted from the platform, but only GIFs will be able to animate images moving forward. According to Yahoo, Twitter has further clarified that APNG files were not used to target the Epilepsy Foundation, but the bug meant such files could have been used to do so in the future had Twitter not moved to squash it.

ALSO READ: Trump says he and Xi will sign China trade deal

The attacks on the Epilepsy Foundation’s Twitter handle occurred last month — National Epilepsy Awareness Month — with trolls using its hashtags and Twitter handle to post animated images with strobing light effects. It’s not clear how many people may have been affected by the attack, but the foundation said it’s cooperating with law enforcement officials and has filed criminal complaints against accounts believed to have been involved.

An animated image can be considered a deadly weapon, a Texas jury found in 2016, after a man sent a flashing GIF to journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who has epilepsy. The image did indeed cause Eichenwald to have a seizure.

Twitter said Monday it will “look into building a similar feature that’s better for you and your Twitter experience” in lieu of APNGs.

Source: The Verge

The post Twitter bans animated PNG files after online attackers targeted users with epilepsy appeared first on Vanguard News.

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

2020 Election

The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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New Zealand restaurant trolls Israel Folau with LGBT donation | QNews

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Israel Folau has unknowingly donated to an LGBTIQ youth charity thanks to an Auckland restaurant.

Vegan restaurant Gorilla Kitchen wrote on their Facebook page that Folau and his wife Maria dined with them earlier this month.

After Folau’s new anti-gay sermon last week, the restaurant said they had decided to donate the couple’s payment to a New Zealand LGBTIQ charity.

“We are proud to say that Israel Folau and his wife Maria Folau have inadvertently shown their support to Rainbow Youth,” they wrote.

“We don’t turn anyone away at Gorilla Kitchen, because we love everyone, not just animals. So when Israel and Maria came in again a couple of weeks ago we happily served them, hydrated them and fed them.

“What they didn’t realise was their money spent at Gorilla Kitchen was going to be donated to Rainbow Youth.

“[It’s] an organisation that embraces diversity and offers support for our young and vulnerable rainbow community.

“Glad to see they are not #notashamed for supporting such a great cause.”

Israel Folau under fire for new anti-gay sermon

Last weekend, Israel Folau claimed the Australian bushfires is God’s punishment for same-sex marriage and abortion.

“They have changed that law and legalised same-sex marriage and now those things are okay in society, going against the laws of what God says,” he told his Sydney church.

“You have changed the law and changed the ordinance of these things. Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things have come in a short period of time.

“God is speaking to you guys, Australia. You need to repent and you need to take these laws and turn it back to what is right by God.”

Even staunch supporter Alan Jones and Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticised Folau for the “appallingly insensitive” comments.

However Queensland MP Bob Katter defended Folau, comparing him to disgraced Cardinal George Pell in a jaw-dropping statement.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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Trump’s right-wing media diet is a factor in the impeachment inquiry

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New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

The whistleblower’s complaint says “I do not know why the President associates these servers with Ukraine.”
Well, he must not be an avid consumer of the MAGA media universe.
    As The Daily Beast’s Kevin Poulsen explained here, Trump was “referencing a conspiracy theory pushed by Russian trolls and far-right pundits that imagines the Democratic National Committee fabricating all the evidence in Russia’s 2016 breach of the DNC network.” In other words, it’s a Russia-friendly theory that contradicts all of the U.S. intel community assessments about Russia’s meddling in the election.
    It went “from the depths of 4chan, promoted by Russian media, to the president’s mouth,” BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick wrote.
    This is how the president’s alt-right media diet actively hurts his presidency and the public.

    John Solomon’s contributions

    WaPo’s Philip Bump zeroed in on this point on Thursday. “There’s little indication at this point that Trump’s media diet is anything other than a buffet of conservative television and Internet articles. That diet might just have contributed to the most significant threat Trump’s presidency has seen,” Bump wrote.
    The allegations in the whistleblower complaint “include a significant number of news articles published by a popular conservative opinion columnist for the Hill” — that’s John Solomon, a Fox regular — “articles that the whistleblower seems to think contributed to the fervency of the Trump-Giuliani effort.”
    Bump said it’s clear that “Solomon’s reporting and the stories he helped advance were simultaneously politically useful to Trump and potentially influenced his thinking.” And he pointed out that former chief of staff John Kelly specifically tried to keep these sorts of “unvetted” stories off of Trump’s desk. It doesn’t seem like anyone is trying to do that now…
    → For more on Solomon, WaPo’s Paul Farhi is out with a new story… It says Solomon “has had a long, and occasionally decorated, career as an editor and investigative reporter in Washington, though his more recent work has been trailed by claims that it is biased and lacks rigor…”

    What Trump’s favorite TV shows are telling him

    Right now they’re telling him that he’s a hero. That the Democrats just hate him no matter what. That, as Dan Bongino said, “this was a professional hit on Donald Trump. I have no doubt.” And that, as Mark Meadows told Lou Dobbs, “the president didn’t do anything wrong.” Trump tweeted out three different clips from Dobbs’ show on Thursday… and two clips from Sean Hannity’s show…
    → Gabriel Sherman reported on Thursday that Fox’s Shep Smith was told to stop critiquing Tucker Carlson. A Fox spokesperson denied that management had any direct conversation with Smith. At issue: The question of whether Trump is in legal jeopardy.
    → Oliver Darcy writes: A chyron on Laura Ingraham’s show said ‘Legal Experts: Both Call And Complaint Show No Criminality or Basis for Impeachment.’ Fox’s senior legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano has said Trump admitted to a crime. Shep Smith has cited other experts who agree. It’s nuts how it has become totally normal for Fox’s biggest stars to totally undermine and contradict the reporting and analysis from their own colleagues…

    NYT’s banner headline on Friday

    The front page says “COMPLAINT ASSERTS A WHITE HOUSE COVER-UP.”
    news
    …And that’s arguably the biggest headline from Thursday: The whistleblower’s allegation that senior White House officials tried to “lock down” a record of Trump’s call, and that other politically sensitive info may have been treated the same way…

    NYT criticized for identifying whistleblower’s workplace

    Who is the whistleblower? Where does he work? What were his motives? Reporters have been chasing these Q’s for more than a week. On Thursday the NYT came out with a story describing the whistleblower as a CIA officer, though not naming him. The paper was widely criticized for sharing the details. The man’s lawyer, Andrew Bakaj, said the report was “reckless, as it can place the individual in harm’s way.” The WSJ later matched the NYT’s reporting.
    Times exec editor Dean Baquet initially defended the reporting this way: “The role of the whistle-blower, including his credibility and his place in the government, is essential to understanding one of the most important issues facing the country — whether the president of the U.S. abused power and whether the W.H. covered it up.”

    Did the W.H. already know where the man worked?

    On Thursday evening, the NYT came out with more: “The White House learned that a C.I.A. officer had lodged allegations against President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine even as the officer’s whistle-blower complaint was moving through a process meant to protect him against reprisals, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.”
    Baquet updated his statement to note, “We also understand that the White House already knew he was a C.I.A. officer.” If that’s the case, it takes some of the heat off the NYT, for sure…

    The LAT’s scoop

    Eli Stokols of the Los Angeles Times was the first reporter with quotes from Trump’s shocking remarks to a group of diplomatic officials on Thursday. The NYT followed a few minutes later. The LAT was also first with the audio. “When I heard it for the first time today, it just took me aback,” Stokols told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, calling it “casually menacing.”
    → In his remarks, Trump also said “many” reporters are “scum,” a word that he has mostly deployed against MS-13 gang members and other criminals in the past. He also called members of the press “animals” and “some of the worst human beings you’ll ever meet.”

    Coming up on Friday…

    — Nancy Pelosi will be on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” at 7:30am…
    — Pelosi and House Dems will be holding a presser on 200 days of “Senate GOP Inaction” at 9:30am…
    — BTW, Friday marks 200 days without an on-camera White House press briefing…

    FOR THE RECORD

    — TIME’s cover this week has Trump painting himself into an orange corner…
    — Greg Miller’s analysis: “The whistleblower has by some measures exceeded in weeks what Mueller accomplished in two years: producing a file so concerning and sound that it singlehandedly set in motion the gears of impeachment.” (WaPo)
    — Lester Holt at the end of “Nightly News” on Thursday: “If history is any guide, this will only get uglier. And louder. And yes, further leach at this country’s political divide. Which makes our collective challenge even more important: To listen. To ask. To examine the facts and demand nothing short of the truth. That’s what we endeavor to do here every night. And will continue to do as this story unfolds…” (Mediaite)
    — Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon library: “The Whistleblower complaint is from a patriot who understands and fears Abuse of Power. If even 50 % of his fears are accurate, we are in a variation of Nixonland again…” (Twitter)
    — Samantha Storey in praise of the whistleblower’s complaint: “It’s well written. It’s clear. The sentences are easy to read. Its point ― that the president of the United States has undermined America’s democracy ― screams off the page…” (HuffPost)

    McConnell’s silence

    “Sen. Mitch McConnell, who often ignores reporters’ questions but sometimes engages, just ignored three of mine,” CNN’s Manu Raju reported Thursday afternoon. “I asked him if he’s concerned the whistleblower alleged Trump sought help from a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 elections. I asked if he’s concerned that the WH allegedly sought to conceal the president’s conversations And I asked if he has any concerns with Trump asking the Ukraine president to talk [to] Rudy Giuliani.” McConnell “walked in silence…”
    → Related, and the headline of the day, from the WSJ: “Everyone In Washington Is Reading the Whistleblower Complaint — Except Senate Republicans.”

      Romney is not alone, but…

      Jonathan Martin is out with a must-read story about Mitt Romney. He says Romney’s public statements of concern “reflect what many in his party believe privately but are almost uniformly unwilling to say: that they are faced with damning revelations about the president that are difficult to explain away, and are unsure of whether there is more damaging material to come.” This calls to mind what Mike Murphy said on MSNBC the other day: “One Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump.”

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      Little Mix’s Jesy Nelson on surviving the trolls: ‘People were saying horrific things’

      Eight years after she shot to fame on The X Factor, Nelson describes how she navigated the trauma of being relentlessly bullied on social media

      culture

      When Jesy Nelson was 19 and working behind the bar at a pub in Dagenham, Essex, she remembers watching The X Factor on TV, and thinking: I know I could win that. In 2011, she did just that, as part of the girl group Little Mix and thought: This is the worst day of my life.

      Competing in Simon Cowells singing contest unleashed ceaseless criticism of her appearance and weight (although rarely her voice). All I cared about was what people were saying about me, she says now.

      Winning offered no respite. When Little Mix were crowned, the first Facebook message she saw was from a stranger. It read: You are the ugliest thing I have ever seen in my life. You do not deserve to be in this girl band, you deserve to die.

      I should have been on cloud nine, she says. I had Leigh-Anne [Pinnock, also of Little Mix] in my room being like: This is the best! and I was like: No, this isnt.

      Little Mix went on to become the biggest British girl group since the Spice Girls, but Nelson was consumed by the trolling and abuse on social media. Within two years of the finale, she had depression and an eating disorder and had attempted suicide.

      The downward spiral and her eventual, slow recovery are the focus of an intensely personal BBC One documentary, Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out. Before shooting it, she says, she had never spoken publicly about her struggles in the spotlight.

      When we meet in a corner of BBC Broadcasting House in central London, Nelson, now 28, is friendly and glamorous, dressed in a double-breasted tangerine suit. It is the eighth anniversary of her X Factor debut and #8YearsofLittleMix has been trending on Twitter all morning, thanks to their fans, the Mixers.

      On
      On The X Factor in 2011: (from left) Jade Thirlwall, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jesy Nelson. Photograph: Ken McKay/Talkback Thames/Rex/Shutterstock

      Within minutes of sitting down, she says that, had she known the consequences of appearing on The X Factor, she wouldnt have done it: I dont think anything is worth your happiness, and it was a lot of my life that I wont get back.

      As a child growing up in Romford, Essex, Nelson was intent on becoming a performer, be it singing, dancing or acting. I didnt really have any reason to not be confident, she says.

      In mid-2011, she auditioned for The X Factor as a solo entrant, and was eventually placed in a group with three others: Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall, all aged between 18 and 20.

      Back then, social media was not as inextricably linked with reality TV as it is now. In fact, that eighth series was the first where applicants could upload their audition videos to YouTube; Nelson didnt even know what YouTube was. She remembers being wowed when all the contestants were given new Samsung phones and told to get on Twitter to build their fanbase.

      On the first live show 12 weeks in, Little Mix (then Rhythmix the name was changed later) performed Nicki Minajs Super Bass to gushing praise from judges Louis Walsh, Gary Barlow and their mentor Tulisa Contostavlos. It was the best feeling in the world, said Nelson through happy tears on stage.

      That night, off-camera, the contestants gathered to watch themselves on YouTube. Someone pointed out the comment section. I was very naive, says Nelson. I thought it would be people giving their opinion on our performance. But nearly every comment was about the way I looked: Shes a fat ugly rat; How has she got in this girl group?; How is the fat one in this? She remembers the air being thick with tension because no one knew what to do or how to react.

      I felt a rush of anxiety, because Id never experienced anything like that in my life. People were saying my face was deformed just the most horrific things. I felt like I was heartbroken. I remember ringing my mum and saying: Mum, I want to go home, I dont want to do it.

      Jesy
      Jesy Nelson with Liz Richie in the forthcoming BBC documentary Odd One Out. Photograph: Rahul Bhatt/BBC/October Films

      At about 1am, a member of The X Factor team found Nelson crying alone and asked why she was so upset. A couple of days later, she was asked to explain again on camera. She didnt want to do it. They told me it wasnt recorded, and it was.

      A few weeks later, the clip of Nelson in tears over a few nasty comments was broadcast before Little Mixs performance, the reality TV playbook of sad piano switching to upbeat pop music when Thirlwall comforts her: an uplifting moment of girl power. From then on, that was Nelsons public narrative.

      She does not hold that clip, or the producers, responsible: I think it would have always happened that just added fuel to the fire. From the start, relatability had been billed as a central tenet of Little Mixs appeal. Contostavlos introduced them as the girl group to represent ladies in this country; she framed Nelsons tears as evidence of Little Mix having the same insecurities as every other girl.

      Nelson, however, was the only member even remotely close to the average UK woman at size 16. Although the four bandmates have always been friends thats why were still together she felt singled out. I was with three other girls to be compared to. I dont think it would have been as bad if Id been on my own.

      After the clip presented her as Little Mixs weakest link, the abuse snowballed. It was like as soon as people knew that it was really affecting me, they wanted to do it more. Nelson had been bullied at school, to the point of stress-induced alopecia but this wasnt playground stuff.

      She was shocked by the cruelty from adults some clearly parents. Obviously everyone sits in their living room and will see someone on TV and make a comment. But to actually pick up your phone and go: Im going to make sure this girl sees it even if they didnt think I was going to see it you have no idea the effect that one comment will have.

      Nelson became obsessed with reading criticism. The praise didnt register. It only got worse when I got Twitter. And that led to the Daily Mail, and reading the [below the line] comments the worst you can read about yourself. It was like I purposely wanted to hurt myself.

      I had a routine of waking up, going on Twitter, searching for the worst things I could about myself. Id type in the search bar: Jesy fat, or Jesy ugly, and see what would come up. Sometimes I didnt even need to do that, Id just write Jesy and then Id see all the horrible things. Everyone told me to ignore it but it was like an addiction.

      At one event, Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud who had seen the clip of her crying took Nelson aside. She said: Can I just give you one bit of advice? Please dont read stuff about you. Its the worst thing you could do.

      Little
      Little Mix in Sydney, Australia, in 2013: (from left) Perrie Edwards, Jade Thirlwall, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jesy Nelson. Photograph: Newspix/Rex

      Nelson rolls her eyes self-mockingly. But did I listen? No.

      Contestants had been told help was available if they were struggling, but Nelson had learned that talking only made the problem worse. I dont think any of the team really knew how upset it was making me its just go-go-go, from the car into hair and makeup, then rehearsals.

      It was also a popularity contest. We just wanted to make everyone happy, and we wanted everyone to like us.

      In December 2011, Little Mix became the first group to win The X Factor. Their debut single entered the charts at No 1 seven months later; DNA, their first album, was released in November 2012. Scrutiny of Nelson only increased amid the pressure to maintain momentum.

      Although she tried not to discuss it, she feels the abuse came to define her public image. Id become a bit of a joke. People would make memes, chopping my head off in a group photo and putting a monster or ET on there. Id be in live Q&As and these things would pop up and Id have to just sit there.

      Interviewers asked her how she dealt with it; fans said they looked up to her. She was depressed and in denial: she refused antidepressants, and therapy didnt help. Our schedule was so gruelling. I was going to see a therapist at six oclock in the morning, crying, and then going to a photoshoot.

      Meanwhile, in public, she was giving speeches about being confident. Little Mix, as the guardians of girl power, were not only supposed to represent every woman, but defend every woman.

      I felt I had to be this person who was like Nelson juts her jaw, sashays from side to side, a facsimile of her sassy music-video persona: I dont care what people are saying about me, Im this strong woman. That was the role I had to take on in the group, when really I was an absolute mess.

      In the lead-up to TV performances or video shoots: Id starve myself Id drink Diet Coke for a solid four days and then, when I felt a bit dizzy, Id eat a pack of ham because I knew it had no calories. Then Id binge eat, then hate myself.

      Yet she did not see herself as having an eating disorder. I could see that I was losing weight and sometimes Id see a few good comments and that spiralled me to be like: This is how I need to stay. No one cares whether your performance was good, or if you sounded great.

      Nelson
      Nelson in Odd One Out. Photograph: Jamie Simonds/BBC/October Films

      Nelson started skipping events where she knew she would be photographed. On one magazine shoot, the wrong size clothes were provided. I had a meltdown. I cried so much, I had to wear sunglasses. I did one photo, then left. She hid her misery well, she says now. I think people just thought I was a miserable bitch.

      Her lowest point was in the lead-up to Little Mixs second album, Salute, in 2013. Her mum, Janice, increasingly desperate, told her she had to quit the band. Yet Nelson worried that leaving or even taking a break would draw more attention to herself. Everyones going to ask why.

      In November 2013, Little Mix returned to The X Factor to perform their new single, Nelson notably slimmed down. Coverage centred on one tweet from Katie Hopkins: Packet Mix have still got a chubber in their ranks. Less Little Mix. More Pick n Mix.

      Increasingly, Nelson felt trapped. I felt that I physically couldnt tolerate the pain any more. She attempted suicide.

      Nelsons family, her management and the rest of the group knew but once it was spoken about, it wasnt ever spoken about again, she says. She was offered time off, but once more was too frightened of drawing attention to herself to take it.

      The turning point came in February 2014, when Little Mix spent six weeks travelling across North America, opening for Demi Lovato. One day, on the bus, the dancers pulled her aside and told her she had to quit Twitter, likening it to a book filled with loads of nasty things that Nelson always had her nose in. She finally deleted her account.

      It was a long, hard process, because I didnt want to help myself. But it wasnt until I deleted Twitter that everything changed for me and I slowly started to feel normal again. Through more regular therapy and talking to friends and family, eventually she was able to stop reading articles about herself, and distance herself from her public image even as Little Mixs star continued to climb. In 2016, Glory Days became their first No 1 album in the UK.

      Since February, Nelson has been dating the 2017 Love Island contestant Chris Hughes, who has defended her publicly from online trolling and who she says is a positive influence on her feelings about fame: Its nice to be around someone who doesnt give a shit about all that stuff.

      Making the documentary also contributed; she lights up while talking about meeting a body-image specialist, Liz Ritchie, to help her understand her relationship with social media and the mask that she had developed to withstand the spotlight. Part of this involved going over footage from The X Factor, which was a difficult experience, but ultimately empowering.

      Dont get me wrong, I still have days when I feel shit in myself but instead of beating myself up about it and being miserable, I think: OK, Im going to have my moment of being sad, and Ill be over it. Before, I didnt let myself be sad.

      Talking to other young people who have experienced online abuse made her feel less alone. A lot of people think stop moaning, but until youve experienced it, its hard to understand and it doesnt just happen to people in the limelight. Theres so many people struggling with social media and online trolling. People need to know about the effects it has.

      The turnaround in five years, she agrees, is remarkable: now, as Little Mix work on their sixth album, Nelson is less conscious of her weight, her appearance, what shes eating even what is being said about her. To shoot the documentary, she returned to Twitter, and discovered some new slurs. I didnt even know some people said that about me, but its because I dont look for it and also, I. Dont. Care, she says, leaning forward in her chair.

      Now Im mentally a lot happier, I just think people are always going to have an opinion. But I only care about mine. She flashes a smile from beneath all her hair, happy but defiant and for a moment she looks exactly like the girl in the music videos.

      Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out is on BBC One at 9pm on 12 September, and will be available on BBC iPlayer.

      In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and the domestic violence helpline is on 0808 2000 247. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org

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      Ukraines Top Independent Corruption Fighters Shocked by Trumps Phone Calland His Ignorance

      KYIV, UkraineOne of this countrys leading independent anti-corruption fighters says she was shocked at the partial transcript of Donald Trumps July 25 phone call to the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

      It was mind-blowing to read Trumps requests to do him a favor and say hed have the U.S. attorney general call Zelensky to push the investigation that Trump would benefit from politically, said Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of Ukraines Anti-Corruption Action Center, the major watchdog monitoring officials who abuse their authority and steal from the state.

      Trump spoke like a mafia don, and Zelenskly probably knew what was coming. Trumps lawyer Rudolph Giuliani already had been in touch with Zelenkys people.

      The memo of the conversation released Wednesday by the White House, makes it apparent Zelensky was doing all he could to humor the president of the United States. The former star of a TV comedy show in which he played a common man who became an uncommon president, which he then proceeded to become in real life, Zelensky said hed learned a lot from Trumps political techniques. He tried out a couple of ironic jokes. And paraphrasing Trumps campaign pledge he volunteered, We wanted to drain the swamp here in our country.

      That wasnt enough to get a clear commitment from Trump to supply the kinds of arms Ukraine needs to fight Russian backed insurgents and covert Russian military units. Trumps idea of the swamp in Ukraine was very different from the way Zelensky sees it. Indeed, Trumps only interest was in digging dirt he believed might be found about his future opponent Joe Biden and Bidens son, Hunter, or even about his past opponent Hillary Clintons emails.

      Zelensky said he was ready to buy more Javelin anti-tank missiles for Ukraines defense. Trump immediately pivoted: I would like you to do us a favor. Speaking distractedly, as if someone was pushing notes under his nose, Trump said, I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation.

      As The Daily Beast reported, Trump is referencing a conspiracy theory pushed by Russian trolls and far-right pundits that imagines the Democratic National Committee fabricating all the evidence in Russias 2016 breach of the DNC network. No doubt Zelensky was confused.

      Daria Kaleniuk, one of Ukraines most respected independent corruption fighters, says she was deeply upset when she saw the partial transcript. She studied financial law in the United States and has looked up to the country as a paradigm of democratic rule. She said she had not thought the situation there was so degraded.

      A spokesperson for Attorney General William Barrs Department of Justice said Wednesday that in fact Barr never followed up. But Trump also plugged for his personal lawyer, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who appears to be acting as a consigliere at the center of the effort to shift attention to Ukraine and the Democrats, and away from Russias well-established efforts to help Trump get elected in 2016. Zelensky said hed welcome Giuliani in Ukraine, and Giuliani has said publicly many times in recent days that his aim was to uncover incriminating information about the Bidens.

      This scandal is harmful for Ukraine, said Kaleniuk. Dont forget, we are at war with Russia, she said, suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be enjoying the current storm of news over Ukraine.

      Among the many cases Kaleniuk has watched over the last five years is that of Burisma, a natural gas company that named then-Vice President Joe Bidens son Hunter Biden, well known as something of a black sheep, to its board in 2014.

      But the transcript made it clear to Kyivs anti-corruption experts that Trump really had very little idea what he was talking about.

      Zelensky tried in general terms to assure Trump the new administration in Kyiv would be serious about fighting corruption. Good, said Trump, because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that

      Prosecutors in Ukraine have been infamous for using the states power to investigate crimes, then demanding a payoff from the target, and closing the case.

      Kaleniuk notes that three Ukraine prosecutor generalsVitaly Yerema, Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenkohave dumped the Burisma case, each in his turn, one after another. I dont think Mr. Trump knows the name of the very good prosecutor he was talking about.

      When Kyivs corruption fighters see that the Burisma case and what Trump called Ukraines horrible law enforcement system have become an obsession of the president of the United States, they feel lost, said Kaleniuk: This is like a movie, I would never predict anything like it!

      One of Ukraines recent prosecutor generals, Yuriy Lutsenko, closed the Burisma investigation himself when there was still a chance to define the truth and then gave an interview to the Washington website The Hill complaining it was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who gave him a do not prosecute list.

      That is the exact opposite of what happened in the case, which Kaleniuk has followed closely.

      She is convinced that Trump and his helpers had been preparing the Biden scandal for a long time. They started plotting it in October last year, possibly even earlier, she said. One of the messages Lutsenko conveyed, Kaleniuk told The Daily Beast, was that President Trumps lawyer Rudolph Giuliani had consulted with Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraines then-Prosecutor General, for months.

      Trump and Giuliani needed him to convey a message that Ukraine had intervened in American elections, she said. Lutsenko and prosecutor Konstantin Kulik have been giving Giuliani information on this case purely with an agenda to save their careers, inventing the story about the Biden investigation.

      In 2016 Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire Prosecutor General Victor Shokin, who Trump might have meant as very good prosecutor, but he was seen by reformers in Kiev as a disaster. A year earlier Kalemniuks watchdog organization had pushed to dismiss Shokin for neglecting multiple corruption cases.

      Here is why I do not say anything about Hunter Biden, Kaleniuk explained. Vice President Biden called for Ukraine to fire Shokin not because of the Burisma investigation, absolutely not, but because Ukraines prosecutor general did not investigate Burisma. U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt insisted [in early 2016] that Shokin should be investigating Burisma. The U.S. government had a clear position: the Burisma probe was killed by Shokin. And the U.S. thought it and other cases should not have been closed.

      Under the circumstances, and hopeful that Zelensky is as serious about reforms as he has said, Kaleniuk said she understood his reaction to Trump: The leader of the most powerful state, our biggest partner, called with a request, so Zelensky tried not to contradict any of Trumps words, agreed with everything.

      Many in Ukraine were upset by revelations of Zelenskys painful answers to Trump, especially when Zelensky said: The next prosecutor will be 100 percent my person, my candidate, who will be approved by parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. Prosecutors are supposed to be independent.

      Journalists at the Hramadske television network were arguing emotionally in the newsroom Wednesday night.

      Andrey Saychuk, one Hramadske correspondent, told The Daily Beast he wondered how the newly appointed prosecutor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka must feel about the way Zelensky talked about the question of his independence.

      During the Trump-Zelensky press opportunity at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, Zelensky said he was not pushed by Trump in the July phone call, but the pressure on him was obvious. I am sorry, but I dont want to be involved in the elections in USA, he said.

      We should keep our distance from this highly political Burisma case used in the political massacre in United States, any move on it can be used for political purposes, Kaleniuk said. Let American citizens and institutions judge whether their president was pushing Zelensky or not.

      As for Hunter Biden, his affiliation with Burisma seems at a minimum to have been ill considered. The oligarch behind the company, Mykola Zlochevsky, was the minister of ecology and natural resources from July 2010 until April 2012 under the hugely corrupt pro-Putin President Viktor Yanukovych, overthrown by the Maidan revolution in 2014. (One of his close advisors was Trump campaign chairman and international political operative Paul Manafort, now serving a seven and a half year prison term in the United States.)

      Zlochevsky used his authority to give his own company licenses basically the minister gave himself a permit for producing natural resources, and the licenses are at Burisma Holding, said Kaleniuk.

      When Hunter Biden started working with the company in May of 2014, it had just had its assets frozen in the United Kingdom, where it was investigated for money laundering.

      I realize that it is very strange that Hunter Biden was working for Burisma, says Kaleniuk. I might be the first one to say bad things about Joe Bidens movements in regard to this case, but I dont.

      Why? Because far from trying to protect his son from the broader investigation that might establish Hunter received money gained illegally by Burismas founder, Joe Biden wanted to prove it, that Burisma was crooked. He tried to make Shokin investigate that, Kaleniuk said.

      One thing should be clear for everybody today: Joe Biden wanted to fire the prosecutor who did not want to investigate Burisma, where his son was working. That is very important. Kaleniuk added that everybody wanted Shokin fired.

      In May 2014, when Kaleniuks watchdog group of progressive lawyers discovered Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma Holding, they also found he was in interesting company. Polands former President Aleksander Kwasniewsky was on that board, along with a few retired CIA agents, Kaleniuk said. So many names. But, still, It was strange for us to discover that Bidens son appeared to be working at Burisma, most probably as a faade to defend Zlochevskys reputation.

      At a meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden in the spring of 2014, Ukrainian corruption fighters told him about their many issues. We did not talk about Zlochevskys corruption specifically, he was just one of the bastards who had robbed our country, said Kaleniuk. It is unclear if the father Biden knew about [the investigation of] Burisma, she said.

      At that time all foreign partners who tried to help Ukraine investigate corruption knew that both Shokin and his predecessor Vitaly Yarema had dumped the Burisma case. The British embassy, the American embassy knew exactly what was going on. I think that Zlochevsky had to pay a lot for closing the case against him, Kaleniuk said.

      But, heres the thing about the vast breadth and depth of corruption in UkrainePresident Zelensky himself is hardly immune. His great patron has been the oligarch who owned the television station where he became a star.

      If somebody asked us about the priority for the investigation today, I would say billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, and not Biden, should be the priority, said Kilaniuk. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations has looked into Kolomoiskys investments in the United States. Formerly exiled in Israel, Kolomoisky now feels perfectly comfortable in Zelenskys Ukraine.

      Kilaniuk insisted that none of Trumps agents, including Rudolph Giuliani really understood how Ukraine functions. I dont think that Giuliani was the one who plotted the scandal, I think he just was just promoting this story; obviously, Donald Trump has no idea how things really work in Ukraine. I believe that Zelensky understands what has happened, I hope the President can distance himself from billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky.

      The risk is always that before the swamp can be drained, Zelensky will drown in it.

      Christopher Dickey also contributed to this story.

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      Greta Thunberg Responds Perfectly To The Internet Trolls

      In August 2018, then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg staged her first strike outside the Swedish parliament. By November, the movement had caught on. Kids across Europe went on strike walking out of schools, sparking what would become the largest climate protest ever held around the world. Earlier this year, less than a year after she started campaigning, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for starting what is now truly a global movement.

      Over the last month, she’s captured even more media attention to her cause – the current climate crisis – by sailing (rather than flying) across the Atlantic to attend the United Nations climate action summit in New York, where she gave a powerful speech that got seen by the world.

      Despite her message being relatively non-controversial – Earth’s climate is demonstrably changing and we need to do more to prevent catastrophe – and backed up entirely by science, she has drawn the attention and abuse of prominent Internet trolls and actively controversial media figures. 

      You’d hope that people would temper their language when talking about someone who is still only a 16-year-old child, but that has not been the case.

      It’s not just the accurate scientific information she is sharing that has been questioned by detractors. She has been attacked on the grounds that she, a young person with Asperger’s syndrome talking on national television fluently in a second language, delivered this information in too much of a monotone, with critics calling her “chilling” and “creepy”. When she chose a boat not a plane to travel to the US to give a talk on how we should be limiting our carbon emissions, grown adults made jokes about her drowning

      She’s even been likened to Nazi propaganda because she braids her hair.

      When she’s not being attacked by prominent members of the media, she is regularly asked by the general public things like “if you’re so scared of climate change, how come you eat food?” because she was pictured eating lunch. (Yeah, they’ve totally got her there.)

      Throughout all this, she has kept relatively quiet about on her thoughts on trolls. Even when the President of the United States mocked her on Twitter, she merely updated her bio to show how little it bothered her.

      Now she has responded to the abuse and conspiracy theories, in a thread that’s gone viral.

      She got succinctly to the point.

      “It seems they will cross every possible line to avert the focus, since they are so desperate not to talk about the climate and ecological crisis. Being different is not an illness and the current, best available science is not opinions – it’s facts,” she wrote on Twitter, from the boat she is currently sailing on back home.

      “I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science, when they could do something good instead. I guess they must simply feel so threatened by us.”

      “But don’t waste your time giving them any more attention. The world is waking up. Change is coming wether they like it or not. See you in the streets this Friday!”

      Perfect.

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